It's a-Wii, Maaaario!
Give Nintendo credit for knowing what their audience wants. Launching a new console without a Mario title would be as counter-productive as selling a hybrid that got lousy gas mileage (I’m lookin’ at you, Gamecube). So when the company's Wii press conference kicked off at E3, Mario was front and center.
Say what you will about the rest of the potential launch titles; Super Mario Galaxy has the distinction of looking simultaneously like the title GameCube owners always wanted and the one nobody knew to expect.
We don’t know much about the back story yet. Heck, even 'Super Mario Galaxy' is just a working title, and with Nintendo's recent working title track record, expect a much less compelling moniker to grace the final game. Is the word ‘Galaxy’ too threatening for us terrestrial types?
At any rate, the gameplay speaks for itself. Miyamoto has come up with a new control scheme and a means of visualizing Mario's classic action that might just be innovative enough to satisfy fans hungry for both nostalgia and new tricks.
[image1]Much of that innovation is linked to the Wii controller. Wiggling the remote rapidly left to right, for example, causes the plumber to spin. This has a couple of uses; disorientation and nausea, unfortunately, don't seem to be among them. Spinning under a floating red star launches Mario not into communism or the GR masthead, but into space. Spinning near an enemy knocks it out, and in the demo's single boss battle, spinning knocked the boss' projectiles back into him for damage.
The spinning action is both perfectly in tune with Mario's traditional capabilities and intrinsically linked to the Wii. It also comfortably rubs elbows with the more traditional running, jumping and butt-stomping (the most traditional move of all), which are all handled via more orthodox button presses.
The remote also serves as a sort of whimsical laser pointer, causing a star icon to appear when pointed at the screen. By gesturing with the remote, players can pick up some items and interact with others. In one case we rang a bell with the remote to collect notes. It’s pretty basic stuff on the surface, but if past games are any indication, there will be some world where we'll spend a week trying to nail the perfect jump to ring a bell to grab an elusive pickup. That's Miyamoto, training us all like seals.
Even simple Mario jumping is a little different, since (so far) there aren't a whole lot of walls and barriers. Instead of the 3D worlds of Mario 64 and Sunshine, Galaxy's planets are largely open spaces with some occasional stuff to climb on - more like the 2D worlds of classic Mario, in other words.
[image2]That's not to say there's no challenge in exploration. Gravity and vertigo play a prominent role in Galaxy. All the planets we've seen have gravity, but the camera doesn't always rotate with Mario as he circles around to the underside of a celestial body. So some of the game could well be played with Mario upside down, in an extension of the challenge found when Mario had to navigate extensive chained gates in the Amusement Park world in Sunshine.
Inevitably, there's going to be some disappointment in Galaxy's graphics, but there should be no issue with its aesthetic. Since the Wii looks about as powerful as the original Xbox, there's no next-gen leap in visual quality over Super Mario Sunshine. Then again, who really wants photo-realistic Mario? The day I can actually see some plumber crack is the day I find a new industry to write about. Plumbing, maybe.
Instead of packing the game with super high-resolution textures and out of control lighting, Miyamoto is doing that crazy thing he does so well: integrating design and visual accomplishment. No longer confined to a single planet, Mario now flies from one mini-planet to another, and in the demo at least, the visual effect of moving through space stayed fresh and very much suited to the character.
'Fresh' is a word I love to apply to a twenty year-old franchise. It's a bit early to proclaim that Super Mario Galaxy will be Mario's Metroid Prime, but no other game has done as much to sell me on the Wii as Mario's, still sexy after all these years.